URI alumnus, long-time staff member receives top honor for service to Paralympic Games

East Greenwich resident among international leaders of movement

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East Greenwich’s Paul DePace, director of Capital Projects at URI, is all smiles after receiving his medal for being inducted into the Paralympic Order at the Paralympic Awards Gala 2017 in Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of the International Paralympic Committee.

KINGSTON, R.I.- November 9, 2017- After a recent visit to Abu Dhabi, Paul DePace described the city as quite the place because of its opulent, over-the-top-architecture and searing heat.

And while he was there, the director of capital projects at the University of Rhode Island stood out as well, as the International Paralympic Committee inducted him into the Paralympic Order in September, the highest accolade bestowed by the Paralympic Movement.

DePace was honored along with two other international figures who have made major contributions to the movement.

DePace, who serves as the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation president,  was recognized for his almost 50 years of work on behalf of sports for persons with disability. During his nearly five decades with sport, he has been an athlete, coach, Team USA Chef de Mission and board director for the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games Organizing Committee.

He has also served as vice president of the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation and on the IPC Executive Committee.  As president of the Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation since 2001, he has promoted Paralympic sport internationally from the grassroots to the highest levels.

DePace has joined the prestigious company of Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, Republican candidate for president and former chief executive officer of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics;  and Jacques Rogge, a Belgian sports administrator and physician who served as the eighth president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 2001 to 2013; and Sir Ludwig Guttman, the founder of sports for persons with disability,  to name a few.

The Paralympic Order honors individuals who have exemplified the Paralympic ideals through their actions, made remarkable strides in Paralympic sport or rendered outstanding services to the Paralympic cause.

“I am honored to be included in this prestigious group, “DePace said. “I have tried in my own small way to help people live fulfilling and active lives.”

The East Greenwich resident began competing as a wheelchair athlete in 1968, after a car accident paralyzed him the year before while a student. Since then DePace has dedicated himself to helping people with disabilities compete in athletic competition.

“I was an average athlete but have always had a feeling of pride being part of a team , so early on I decided that if I wasn’t winning medals, I would work with others to develop  opportunities for athletes to compete for medals and enjoy sport.  It has taken me to 14 Paralympic and other competitions around the world.

“Of course not all of the persons with disabilities we touch will become Paralympic athletes, but through our work they gain confidence and skills that will serve them in life as they move beyond sport. Through their sporting achievements, the general public has a better understanding of the needs and contributions made by persons with a disability to our Society,” said DePace, who celebrated the honor with his family and Chi Phi Fraternity brothers, who he still sees each month.

One can feel DePace’s sense of community, whether it is connected to the Paralympic Games or the University. As much as he is an advocate for athletes with physical disabilities, he is also no stranger to Rhody athletics. An admitted sports junkie, he can be seen at men’s basketball games and football games, and he also supports women’s track and field, and women’s rowing.

“Knowing how an athlete prepares mentally and physically is something to be respected. The work that is put in that results in a talented athlete is fun to watch. Back stories and backgrounds of people who have achieved always intrigue me.”

DePace has also played a major role in construction projects at URI since 1977. A 1968 graduate of the University, DePace has been a staff member since 1977. He can often be seen at URI construction sites, wearing a hard hat and goggles check things out.

In 2016, DePace was inducted into the Wheelchair Sports, USA Hall of Fame, and while he was proud of that honor, his enshrinement in the Paralympic Order means even more.

“Not many Americans have won this award. I’m humbled and very proud to have played a role in contributing to enriching the lives of others .

Dominique Ward, a senior public relations major and intern in URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this press release.